In Tamil Nadu State, few southern districts (Ramanathapuram, Virudhunagar, Sivagangai and parts Pudukottai, Tutucorin and Tirunelveli) are highly prone to drought due to semi-arid nature of terrain and hot & humid climatic conditions and, periodic southwest monsoon is very erratic and failure of monsoon is a common occurrence in this region. As a consequence, failure in agriculture practices and loss of agriculture produce would affect both small and marginal farmers and agriculture labourers. Ultimately migration has been a continuous event from rural pockets of this region to urban and coastal regions for employment opportunity. Due to recurrent failure in agriculture, people of this region have to depend extremely on external source for cooking fuel, particularly kerosene.
In early 1950s, Prosopis juliflora was introduced as an alternative to existing fuel need, which gradually started invading the cultivable fertile lands – during continuous drought – invasion was very severe and established very strongly with deep rooted; These Prosopis trees could not be removed manually, heavy machinery was required and further aggravated cost intensive. As a result, those fertile agriculture lands were degraded further intensifying due to non-occurrence of rainfall in this region. Small farmers and landless agriculture labourers were worst affected due to these above combined natural and anthropogenic activities. This severely impacted on long term livelihood activities and strategies of the people this region.
The major spread of P. juliflora was initiated in old Ramanathapuram district. In 1985, the Ramanathapuram District was trifurcated to create Virudhunagar, Ramanathapuram and Sivagangai districts (Figure 1). Later, there was a gradual shift from household consumption of Prosopis as firewood to livelihood activity of making charcoal and marketing the same. Large quantity of charcoal has been sold all over India for various large scales to small scale industries such as steel, chemical industry, metallurgy industry, etc and also consumed in hotels and tea shops of Tamil Nadu.